Growing writers in Kindergarten

In our writing sessions, the children choose what they will write about. Our session starts with a ten minute mini-lesson, where we focus on one small aspect of writing. We have a quick practice all together or in pairs and then the children go off to experiment using our focus lesson in their writing. Before they start writing, they think about whether they will:

  • continue working on something they have started before or start a new piece
  • write a fiction piece or a non fiction piece
  • take their writing through to publishing stage or leave it in draft form
  • share their published work as a book, poster, Puppet Pals animation, kamishi bai or other form

This week the we added another choice to the list – blogging. The children love their kidblogs! They have been amazed and delighted by the number of comments they have received and are highly motivated to write comments on each others blogs. We have added two other class kidblogs to our blog roll – our good friends from Canada, @KinderPals (who introduced us to kidblogs in the first place) and a new class, Ms Lirenman’s Grade 1 class.

The KC children have noticed that KinderPals and Ms Lirenman’s class have photographs on their kidblogs. They are keen to add photographs to their blogs. I have explained that I don’t know how to do that (yet!) but have promised to ask the teachers, Michelle and Karen, how they manage their students’ photographs and get them onto the blog. A learning journey for all!

The children are realizing that some of the comments are hard to read and are discovering for themselves the importance of conventional spelling. In our reflection circle after one blogging session, the children came up with a list of strategies to help them with their spelling:

  • You can ask your friend who is very good at writing.
  • I looked in my reading book because that word was there and I read it.
  • I sounded out with the alphabet chart
  • Well you can just keep writing and not worry about the red lines till you finish, like we do in our other writing.
  • I copied sleepover from the paper where we wrote it before.
  • Me too, I copy from there. (points to time line)
  • We did our together and we helped each other by sounding out but we didn’t know if there was silent letters

As the children work on their writing, I observe them experimenting, re-reading their work, thinking out loud,  seeking and offering help, discussing their ideas with peers and encouraging and supporting each other.   Everyone is actively engaged and focused and working at a level that is right for them. I am reminded of the importance of giving learners a choice and enabling them to make decisions about their learning.

Using technology to do new things in new ways

Throughout the year, as part of our unit of inquiry into how we express ourselves, the children have been exploring ways of telling stories. Recently, a group of children have shown particular interest in the PuppetPals app on our iPads. As part of our writing focus on fictional narratives, the children have been conducting group and personal inquiries into how narrative fictions work, looking in particular at setting, characters and plot. In our writing workshops, the children are aware of many of the processes involved in writing. They know that not all work continues to publishing stage and that published work needs to be of high quality. As part of the viewing and presenting strand of our language curriculum the children have been working on voice projection and speaking clearly.

Today, Aiden and Jaiden came to tell me that they had something important to share. It was a story that Aiden had created first using text and drawing.
The original story:

The boys had decided to work collaboratively to adapt Aiden’s original idea and retell the story using PuppetPals. They had spent a whole morning working on the story and were delighted with their work.

  • Aiden: I think it’s the best we ever did. Please can you put it o the blog because we want to show everyone?
  • Jaiden: We tried to do it so many times, like all day, and each time it’s better and better and now it’s ready to share.

It was obvious from the body language of both children that this was a momentous occassion. They were clearly very proud their work. I could see they felt they had created something significant which they wanted to share with a wider audience. I was keen to respect and support the momentum of the occasion. The children didn’t need praise from me -this whole project had come from Aiden and Jaiden. The boys were self-motivated, and their own assessments of their creation were more powerful than any adult praise. I decided the most useful thing I could do was help them share their work. Over the year, we have talked a lot about digital footprints and about the need to think carefully about how we portray ourselves on line. I asked the boys if they thought their work was good enough to publish on YouTube. Aiden and Jaiden looked at each other.

  • Jaiden: Wow! YouTube! We better check.
  • Aiden :YouTube! I think it’s good enough. But I agree with Jaiden. We need to check. YouTube!
The boys went off to find a quiet, private place to review their work. They came back after several minutes, literally jumping up and down with excitement.
  • Aiden: We think it’s good. We listened carefully and it’s definitely good enough for publishing.
  • Jaiden: We have loud voices and not too many characters. And the background matches the story.
  • Aiden: And the story makes sense.
  • Jaiden: It’s really good. It’s our best ever.
  • Jaiden: I especially like how we photographed the characters from the original one.
  • Aiden: Yeah! We did that because we wanted the characters to be the same.

We exported the clip to YouTube. All the children were struck with awe and wonder that they had the power to create great works and share them on YouTube. Yungi suggested tweeting a link of the YouTube clip to @KinderPals so they could wathc the story in Canada.

There has been much talk in recent years about the role of technology in elementary school classrooms; talk about whether technology has a place, and if so, how best to use it to enhance teaching and learning. In this example, the technology complimented and enhanced our writing inquiry into narrative fiction and our overarching unit of inquiry into how we express ourselves. It empowered the children by enabling them to create a story independently and share work their work with a wider audience. The technology was not a substitute for a more traditional style of learning -it enabled the children to do new things in ways that were not previously possible.

Kindergarten twitter experts

Grade 2C are interested in finding out more about twitter. The Kindergarten children have been using twitter all year so Elif asked if some children from KC would like to go to Grade 2C to teach the second graders how to use twitter. “We are like twitter experts!” Yungi exclaimed.

Angus, Scarlett, Kieran and Aidan offered to share their experiences with Grade 2C. Before they went, we had a whole class discussion about what information they should pass on the children in Grade 2.  I wrote the children’s ideas down on the whiteboard. As the list grew, Jaiden pointed out that some ideas where about why the children in KC liked tweeting, and some ideas were the important things about twitter. We went through the ideas on the list one by one and sorted them into two categories:

Why you should tweet:

  • You can write about your learning so your mom and dad can see.
  • Everyone, even your grandma in another country, can see. Everyone in the whole earth can see.
  • You can meet other kids who might be doing the same stuff as you and then you can help each other.
  • If you have a question you can tweet it and someone might know about it.
  • You can take a photo of your work and then tell about it with fotobabble then you can tweet it to the blog so you can look at your photo at home and then it doesn’t matter if you forget you ideas because you can look at the fotobabble.
  • It’s like emailing or telephoning. You can talk to people but you have to talk by writing.
  • If you want someone like KinderPals to read your blog you can tweet them the link
  • You can talk to a lot of people that you don’t know then they can be your friends
  • When your friends are far away or if they leave your school you can tweet them
  • You can tweet your other family that is far away

Important things to remember when you are tweeting:

  • You have to be polite and nice and kind when you tweet because you wouldn’t like it if someone was mean about you.
  • You should re-read all your writing to check it’s okay before you send it.
  • If there’s a red line,  that means you did a mistake and you have to fix it
  • If you do too many letters then the number goes red and you have to stop.  Sometimes if it’s too long you have to make it shorter or it won’t send.
  • The important thing is that everybody in the universe can see what you write and it never goes away for ever and ever so you have to re-read you message and check it before you send it.
  • If you just have an egg people might not think you are serious
  • You should just have your first name, or your initials when you are a kid. And you have to ask your mum and dad. But only if you are a kid.  Not if your are an adult.

Google Glass part 1

We got a request for help on our twitter stream. A technology coordinator from a school in the USA (@mpowers3 on twitter) had been given a Google Glass to try out with her students. She wondered how she could use it to support teaching and learning in her school. It occurred to her that perhaps students in her school and in other schools would have some good ideas. She was particularly interested in gathering ideas from younger students. She set up a blog where she could gather and share information and tweeted out a request for help.

I explained the project to the children and showed the children the Google Glass website. I asked the children if they were interested in helping @mpowers3 with her research and they said they were.

I asked the children how they thought the Glass could help children learn. The children were slow to respond and when they did, their answers were not obviously related to the question. It occurred to me that the question I had asked required the children to think abstractly about something that they had never experienced. As I pondered on what I could do to make the question more accessible to the children, Yungi suggested that everyone build their own Glass. There was unanimous support for this idea. Without further ado, the children went to work. Jaiden asked if I could put the photo of the Glass up on the screen so that children could refer back to it as they designed their Glasses.

For the next forty five minutes the children worked busily, creating, constructing, testing, adapting, changing, collaborating, and problem solving. Most of the children made more than one model, selecting different materials and getting new ideas from their peers. Several children finished their Glass and walked around the classroom giving verbal instructions to the Glass to take imaginary photographs of things. I overheard groups of children discussing what their Glass would be useful for. When it was time to tidy up, the children asked if they could continue to work on their Glasses tomorrow.

Making Glasses

As I reflect on the process so far, I am thankful for Yungi’s suggestion. I was struggling to find a way to make the experience meaningful for the children, and Yungi’s idea was the perfect solution. The children are highly engaged and are motivated to continue working on their designs. We have scheduled large chunks of time over the next days for the children to continue with their exploration. Once the children have had the opportunity to experiment with different designs and materials and have tried wearing their Glasses around the classroom, I predict they will find it easier to think about practical applications for Google Glass. I am intrigued to see how this inquiry unfolds.

The languages of self expression

Loris Malaguzzi, an Italian early childhood specialist from Reggio Emilia wrote a poem about the many languages of childhood, called The Hundred Languages of Children. This poem has influenced early childhood practitioners all over the world and has encouraged teachers of young children to listen carefully to children’s many languages. Click on the video clip below to listen to the poem.

The Hundred Languages of Children by Loris Malaguzzi:

We are currently working on a unit of inquiry into How We Express Ourselves. The central idea is that people use many different languages to communicate. Through mother tongue reading and through our current exploration for @KinderPals into different writing systems in English and Japanese, the children are becoming increasingly aware of the different spoken and written languages people use. We have also looked at the language of mathematics and have used numbers and mathematical symbols to tell simple stories. In music the children have been exploring the language of music including different forms of notation.

Over the last few weeks we have been using YouTube to look at some non-verbal languages of self expression. Here are a few of the children’s favourite clips:

Recently many of the children have shown an interest in puppetry. We looked at these YouTube clips of shadow puppets.

We set up a shadow puppet area in the classroom using a projector and a screen. The children have been engaged in individual and group inquiries into which materials and designs work best for shadow puppets.

What languages do you use to express your ideas and feelings?

A bilingual book for KinderPals

KinderPals tweeted us to ask what Konichiwa means in English. After much tweeting back and forth, the KC children offered to make a book for KinderPals. KinderPals liked the idea. The KC children tweeted KinderPals to ask them what words they would like to have in the book and KinderPals replied.

As the children talked about the words KinderPals wanted to know, they began to realize they didn’t actually know the words in Japanese. After some discussion Shoei and Ken were identified as Japanese experts and Yungi was “little expert”; but even our experts didn’t know how to write the words in Japanese. The children realized they would have to do some research and so our “Japanese writing inquiry” began.

The children began a collection of Japanese writing. They were surprised to find a lot of Japanese text in our classroom and around our school. There was a discussion about why this would be since our school in an English school. Jaiden pointed out that we were an international school. Aiden reminded everyone that there was some Korean writing on Cloud Bread, the Korean book that Yungi’s family had given to the class. Aiden went and got the book and we looked at it.

The children noticed that the Korean writing looked different to Japanese writing. Angus thought that we should find out more about Korean writing because, “it’s a little bit same and a little bit different and maybe it can help us to learn Japanese writing.” Several other children thought this was a good idea. Yungi offered to bring some Korean books from home.

Meanwhile, the teachers provided time and materials and the children began their own individual investigations:

Some children copied Japanese writing from bilingual books in the classroom.

Others looked through Japanese newspapers and junk mail and copied and cut out words they liked.

Some children had a go at doing some Japanese writing themselves. A few children made up their own Kanji.

Other children chose to explore Japanese writing though painting.

Yet others had a go at forming the symbols on the iPads.

We teachers have talked about how to support and extend the children’s inquiry. We wondered how to introduce the three different writing systems of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji. We observed that some children are noticing and commenting on the features of the Japanese text they are finding. Scarlett noticed that some writing goes sideways and some writing goes up and down. Albe observed that some writing is “kind of bumpy” and Sofia found some writing with straight lines and some with curly lines. Jaiden thought some writing looked like pictures. Based on this, we teachers plan to suggest to the children that they sort their writing samples. We are not sure what criteria or categories the children will come up with, but their explanations will tell us a lot about what the children know already and will help us plan how to proceed.

Twitter sparks a measuring inquiry

When we got back after the winter break, we found a twitter message from KinderPals, our Twitter buddies in Abbotsford, Canada, thanking us for the Japanese New Year cards we had sent.  We responded by sharing some exciting New Year news: Willow and Nathan had joined our class. KinderPals tweeted back. It turns out that they have a Nathan in their class as well!

KC were curious to know what KinderPal’s Nathan looked like so KinderPals promised to send us a picture. A few days later we recieved this picture of Nathan in KinderPals class, via twitter.

We tweeted KinderPals a picture of our Nathan.

We have been recording the children’s growth on our door. This sparked a conversation about how tall the KinderPal’s Nathan was. Several of the children thought that the two Nathans would be the same height because they were both called Nathan. Other children disagreed; they did not think that the two children would be the same height just because they had the same name. The KC children tweeted KinderPals to ask them how tall their Nathan was.

Michelle, the KinderPals teacher, and I emailed each other to see how we could extend this authentic inquiry into measurement. We have decided to suggest to the children that they measure their respective Nathans so that they can share this information with the other class. We have planned that we will not give the children much guidance initially; we are interested to see what tools and strategies the children come up with as this will tell us what they already know about measurement. I am intrigued to see how this inquiry unfolds!

A book about Japan

Recently, KC made some new Kindergarten friends on Twitter – @TexasKinderClass from Texas, USA. As the two classes tweeted back and forth, they realized that they wanted to know more about where each other lived. @TexasKinderClass offered to make a book about Texas for KC. When we received @TexasKinderClass’s book, the KC children were inspired to make a book about Japan to share with their twitter friends.

We had much discussion about what we should put in our book. Yungi suggested we should, “listen to everyone’s good ideas and then we could try out all the ideas and do the best ones.” The other children agreed. We started with a question: What would Kindergarten children in other countries like to know about Japan? We brain-stormed to up with a long and varied list. This list told me a lot about the theories the children had constructed to help them make sense of the world around them and the connections the children were making to prior knowledge and experiences.

  • Japan is Japanese world so not many England people are in Japan
  • Japan writing and England writing are different
  • Japan have so many island
  • And is mountain
  • And Japan have a big country, Tokyo
  • Japan is in Yokohama
  • There is 100 people in Japan
  • A hundred million eleventy people
  • Japan people speak Japanese. If you don’t know Japanese you can’t understand nothing
  • There is so much amazing things in Japan.
  • Mount Fuji is pretty amazing
  • We can see Mount Fuji from our school
  • Mount Everest is in Japan and it is the biggest mountain in the world, bigger than Fuji
  • But Fuji is more important because it has a volcano.
  • Japanese food is really interesting.
  • Sometimes Japanese food is yummy and sometimes it’s yucky
  • Japanese people eat so much rice every day.
  • That’s why you have to have chop sticks – Ohashi
  • And in Japan people eat a lot of seafood, especially octopus legs
  • And Senbei. I eat Senbei
  • Africa more hot like Japan, not hot
  • And there’s typhoons in Japan
  • And earthquakes
  • But I don’t think we should write about earthquakes because people might feel sad
  • And so many plants because I think Japanese people love plants

The children calculated that if we included everything on the list, our book would have 24 pages, which they thought was too much. For several days, we discussed what should be in the book. In the end, through negotiation and voting, we reached a consensus which was, as happens with consensus, no-one’s first choice but was something everyone could live with. The one unanimous decision was that the book should be non-fiction, “so that other kids can know about Japan, how it really is”, Sofia explained. We had lots of discussion about how to illustrate the book. We talked about copyright, and about not using other people’s images without their permission.

We published the book on iTunes (click here to download) and, for non-apple devices, on issu (click here) or read the book in scroll-down format below.

The children decided to dedicate their book to @TexasKinderClass for giving them the idea of making a book.

Using tablet computers with young children

As part of a course I am doing on the use of technology in education to flatten classroom walls, I had to write an assignment on an area of technology that interests me, focusing on innovations in that particular area. I decided to do my assignment on the impact that tablet computers are having in Early Years classrooms (5-7 year olds). I made a short video to explain, from several different perspectives, how tablet computers are being used to support teaching and learning with young children.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Meet KC

KC class is involved in a global on-line #flatclassroom project called Building Bridges K-2, in which children learn about each other’s cultures and daily lives. The children wanted to introduce themselves to their partner schools. We talked about the best way to do this.

  • We could Skype.
  • What if they are not in a zone, like @KinderPals
  • I think we could make a video to tell them about us
  • But it will be too long if everyone speaks and then they’ll think we are really boring.

At this point I directed the children to VoiceThread, a tool that they have used before.

  • I think that will be really good because then the other kids in the other classes can leave comments
  • And our moms can leave comments
  • And we can leave a comment for them!

We talked about how we could build on the skills and understanding the children developed while making their last VoiceThread. The children suggested talking clearly and leaving detailed comments on other people’s pictures. Over the next week, the children will work on adding their comments to their friend’s pictures.